I dread the day that libraries no longer house books, only rows and rows of computers and probably very few librarians (or information professionals if you like to use the technical term). I love coming into the library to see row after row of books that I haven’t yet discovered, friends that I haven’t been introduced to. However, I read with horror that this has actually happened at Cushing Academy in New England.
The Boston Globe reported that school’s governing board decided this year that they no longer needed a traditional library and so discarded their collection of more than 20,000 books in favour of a digital “learning centre” costing $500,000. In place of the book shelves, they are spending $42,000 on three large flat-screen TVs that will project data from the Internet and $20,000 on special laptop-friendly study spaces. Where the reference desk was, they are building a $50,000 coffee shop that will include a $12,000 cappuccino machine. One irate librarian commenting on the plans suggested that the students may leave the school lacking print literacy, but at least they would be ‘discerning consumers of the perfect cappuccino.’ One thing that I couldn’t quite understand was that they weren’t just getting rid of the non-fiction material to make space for the ICT options, but also the thousands of fiction titles that were apparently not getting read.
I think that the school’s principal has a somewhat warped view of books. He says, “When I look at books, I see an outdated technology, like scrolls before books” and suggests that by getting rid of the books the school is “not discouraging students from reading.” I would suggest that the principal is not a reader at all, otherwise he would know that holding a e-book reader, such as a Kindle, is nowhere near the same as holding an actual book, turning actual pages, looking at printed pictures and breathing-in that book smell.
I can’t see this type of library or “learning centre” taking over the world anytime soon, but I’m sure there will be enough book lovers to fight back when it does.